Sunday, February 28, 2010

Gulf of Tehuatepec to Puerto Madero

Ruins, originally uploaded by seaparents.

HOLY $#%@ !!!

So, I am checking wind/weather by weather fax (Shortwave radio connected through the computer via NOAA) and a few other sources. The few other sources as previously mentioned are less than accurate, but the weather fax has been spot on. So we were waiting in Huatulco for a weather window to cross the dreaded Gulf of Tehuantepec. Apparently, winds funnel across the narrow section of southern Mexico from the caribbean and accelerate up to 60+ knots on our route. We have been doing nothing but motoring, so I was actually looking forward to SOME wind. The other boats waiting to cross the gulf were planning on leaving this past Thursday with nothing but motoring in mind. The weather fax showed a gale warning through Wednesday, diminishing on Thursday. The weather bulletin from the port captain showed 25 knots both days, so I figured since we had 60 miles to cover before the bad section of the gulf (Salina Cruz), we would arrive at the tail end of the wind and sail through the gulf pretty quickly. Let’s just say that forecasts are basically wild ass guesses and I will wait until there no signs of a gale warning before leaving in the future. We had 20 knots of wind all the way to Salina Cruz and covered the 60 miles before dark. The wind started to build and we reefed the sails (reduced sail area) at around 26 knots and then further at 33 knots (both times were more difficult than I thought it would be, but it went pretty smooth). The waves were steadily building as well, but nothing to worry about. I took the first watch and Brady and the kids went to bed around 8. The wind was dead on the nose at this point, so I took the main all the way down. I learned that in 35 knots of wind, the boat will not go straight ahead very well. We did not have enough forward velocity for the rudders to work properly, so the wind actually pushed the nose of the boat to leeward. With the helm all the way over, the boat headed off course 30 degrees. During the lulls, the boat would come back on course and then push the other direction if the auto pilot corrected too far. At this point, the wind was gusting to 40 knots and backing to 20. I was wearing my life jacket and attached myself by harness to the boat just in case. Other than the occasional salt spray we were making progress toward the beach past Salina Cruz. I had to steer by hand through 4 container ships anchored directly in my path, but made it through despite the steering issue. As we reached the beach, the waves disappeared. This happens because the wind comes from the land to the ocean and the waves do not have a chance to build up yet. What I didn’t mention is that I had to steer a course in 35 feet of water, 1/4 mile from shore, in the dark....GREAT! 3 GPS’s side by side and maybe I could get some sleep since it was 3 AM by this time. I woke Brady and gave her the rundown. She had some obvious reservations about taking over, especially since we were coming up on a lagoon entrance that we would have to pass 2 miles off shore (think bigger waves and a more uncomfortable ride). She agreed to stay up with me at the GPS’s while I steered our course from outside (in winds that gusted to 49 knots!). Despite the wind and waves (6-8 feet), the boat remained incredibly stable, which I am thrilled about. Brady is a little less aware of the actual stability and is convinced that we were mere minutes from reliving the movie Titanic. I can tell you that not only were the kids sleeping soundly this whole time, but she fell asleep on a stool at the navigation station (clearly uncomfortable huh?) We passed the lagoon entrance and returned to the relative calm of the beach. At 5 AM, I finally got to bed and the winds calmed down to the forecast 25 knots. Woo hoo!, we made it...maybe. The following afternoon, after making great time with the sails, the wind slowed and the mainsail started to flog. Just as we were getting ready to take it down, I hear a rrrrriiiiiiippppp. Not good, but we could use the headsail and motor the 280 miles to El Salvador. I turned on the port side engine and nothing, nada....HMMM. One engine and one sail. Maybe we better stop in Puerto Madero, Mexico, about two hours away. This after spending several hours clearing out of Mexico in Huatulco. I contacted the port captain and let him know that we would be making an unscheduled emergency stop for repairs, in the middle of the night of course. We entered in the dark again, but found an anchorage and went to bed. Ten minutes later, there was a commotion outside and we were visited by the navy for a standard entry inspection with drug sniffing dog Cassiopeia in tow. We have heard nothing but bad things about Puerto Madero, but the people have been very nice. The mainsail did not actually tear, but a seam blew out and left a ten foot hole. Brady and I spent three mornings working with our non existent sewing skills and I think I tracked the problem with the engine down to a bad starter. I had a new starter sent from Mazatlan and as soon as it arrives, we should be back to both engines and both sails. I cleared out of Mexico again and we are leaving as soon as the starter arrives, hopefully tomorrow. As a sidebar, we were able to take the kids on a great field trip today to the Olmec ruins (pyramids and carved stones) in Izapa. We are pleasantly surprised by everything we have found on our accidental side trip. P.S. Don’t worry Todd, we will make it in plenty of time...or not :)

A SHORTER AND MORE DRAMATIC VERSION. HOLY CRAP!!!! Troy definitely has more tolerance for gales than I do. Picture yourself in a little boat, because at this point I felt like I was in the dinghy, being blown so hard that the ocean was drenching el capitano Troyo and the waves felt like they were going to flip the boat. Troy has ensured me that I am being a drama queen and that we were not in as bad of weather as we are going to be in the future. So, I am not sure about crossing the Pacific yet, maybe the Bahamas will be our next destination. OK, maybe a little over reaction, but next time lets skip the wind and motor. Sailboat or not, 49 knots is a little too much adrenaline for my blood. Peaceful cruising with a corona in hand is the picture I had in mind. So, please pray for future safe calm passages for us in the future. I am just so happy that we are in safe harbor in an unexpectedly beautiful place. ( Warning: I have added some of my creative expression to make a better blog entry. Don’t worry.)

P.S My night watch didn’t go so well.

P.S.S This is why Troy was the firemen and I just played with stones. Mas cajunes!